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AND THEN ... SILENCE
How to move quietly
by Konstantin Komarov

When I was a freshman at the military school, one episode became a profound learning experience for me.

My freshman year, as well as the sophomore year, was a very tough time (at least, for me). I had to summon ALL my reserves and to change in many ways, or more precisely, overcome my old self.

So, after three months of school, in early November, we had our first 3-day, UNFORGETTABLE field trip. It started as it was supposed to, with a general alarm and going by foot to the secondary base, which was about 40 km (25 mi) away. Out there, without stopping, we practiced attack and defense, running as a unit and shooting, tactics and firearms, “chemical attacks” and “air strikes”, digging trenches every time we stopped, and building platoon strong points for each night. In case you do not know, a platoon strong point includes individual and connected trenches with parapets deep enough for standing, a communication tunnel, dugouts for combat vehicles and a fortified shelter, among other things. All of this was done while running, crawling, keeping our heads down under “fire from a probable enemy”, up to our ankles in mud, in soaking wet trench coats and boots, dealing with autumn frost every night and a daily doze of wet snow.

All in all, it was tens of kilometers and bloody sores on our feet, along with many cubic yards of excavated soil and blisters from shovels on our palms. Well, actually the very first night we did not dig any trenches; instead we were perfected the night work methods and techniques: movement, searching, assaulting, and guarding. Digging trenches would have been easier...

I am not going to share all the “gory details”. Just try to have a general idea of the STATE we were in by the third night of our first “war”. That night is what I will talk about.

In the evening of the third day, after yet another “offensive”, we took up the defensive position at the edge of the forest and rushed into preparing the position (digging trenches). Ahead of us, in about 200 meters there was a dilapidated two-story building, behind which began some mixed forest. This was where the “enemy” took defensive positions. The “enemy” that night happened to be our comrades from the 3rd platoon. By 1 AM we have dug out the outlines of the strong point. Our sergeants (squad commanders and the deputy platoon commander) checked the outposts and, since there were no officers around, decided to warm themselves by a tiny fire started at the bottom of the future shelter. Our orders were to scatter some dry twigs, branches, and trash on all approaches to the trenches. Then we could “half-rest”, meaning half of us had to stay awake and watch while the other half could sleep in their trenches.

The dry branches and trash were not sergeants’ whim but a precaution after the previous night, when an inspection officer took away a gun from the hands of a sleeping cadet. The result was that our whole platoon had to storm “the opponent headquarters” - a dilapidated building about a half-kilometer ahead of our positions - till 4 in the morning. Of course, each assault attempt was “neutralized” by the enemy, so every time we had to retreat while carrying on our backs half the platoon: “the dead and the wounded”.

Anyway, this time it was my turn to stay awake and I prepared myself to brave the cold and the desire to sleep. I was to watch the left flank because my trench was the leftmost. By the night time it got pretty chilly. The grass and the trees were covered with a thick layer of frost. Flimsy twigs, fallen leaves, and dry grass stems froze through and crunched loudly when we stepped on them. The loud, ringing sound of crackling carried very far in the frozen, piercing silence of the night. It seemed that one could hear any movement, any rustling from afar.

The cold has sent my teeth chattering; I did push-ups and squats, tensed and relaxed my muscles, and once in a while crawled on all fours to the neighboring trench of the machine gun crew. Over there, I warmed my hands by the tiny fire started in a tin can by a guy from my hometown, who joined the school after completing the regular military service.

It seemed that eternity had passed and nothing could disturb the silence; there was nothing in the world except the endless, freezing night, the trench and dead silence... Suddenly, there was a huge explosion and someone’s chilling, unearthly cry, then more and more explosions. Then, our sergeant’s blood-curdling yell sent us to attack.

Having jumped out of the trench and reaching the edge of the woods, I realized that I was the only one running. So, I took cover behind the nearest bush and decided to wait out there and see what happens. The wait was not too long: in a couple of minutes there was a signal to get back.

In the shelter, next to what used to be the fire before the explosion, sat a Major, our tactics lecturer. Our sergeants stood there, embarrassed, and the gathering cadets clung to the walls.

What had happened was plain and simple. The Major approached our platoon bypassing the outposts, from my flank. He stopped by almost all trenches, took the guns from the most tightly sleeping cadets, and then threw a firecracker into the sergeants’ fire. Then two more firecrackers followed. Half-asleep, the deputy platoon commander gave the order to attack, but many cadets’ legs and feet went totally numb in the cold. So, as soon as they jumped out of the trenches, the cadets started dropping to the ground as if they were shot. In a nutshell, the platoon was destroyed even before the battle began.

It was inconceivable how we did not hear the man who was wandering in and around our base for a long time. I was awake and more than half of the platoon simply could not sleep because of the cold. Yet, no one saw or heard anything. The scattered dry twigs, tin cans, frozen grass and leaves, and thin ice on the puddles - none of it helped.

Major’s decision was ruthless and simple. We had to deliver three guns to him (exactly the number he took away from our platoon), or else he would report the incident to our company commander. It was clear to all that the latter would have had HORRIBLE CONSEQUENCES...

It was three in the morning. It was decided to work by squads. My squad #1 targeted our brothers from the 3rd platoon in the woods across from us. The others went to our neighbors to try their luck.

For training, we tried sneaking up to our sergeant’s trench, but no one could get close, not even to 20 paces from the trench. Either a twig would snap, leaves rustle, or ice would crack. We tried standing upright, on all fours, and crawling... We spent almost an hour trying to find a way but nothing worked. Only one guy managed to get as close as 4 paces, after removing his gear, coat, and boots. Unfortunately his teeth chattering from cold gave out his location.

Seeing the futility of our attempts to do the work quietly, we decided to divide into two groups. The first group should go around the target from the right, get to the position from behind, get as close as possible and watch. The second group should wait 30 minutes after the first one had left, then go around from the left flank. As soon as they encountered an outpost or the closest trench, attack suddenly and try to take away the weapons or simply make some noise. Then they were to retreat, covering up the tracks. The first group would take advantage of the distracting noise and take away someone’s gun.

I was in the first group. We were approaching the destination slowly and cautiously and it felt like an eternity. Still, we were making noise like a herd of elephants. I wanted to plug my ears and squeeze my eyes shut. Initially, to avoid getting lost, we followed the edge of the woods. At least we could see something. Then, we went deeper into the forest... I have no idea how the leader managed to get us out of there.

Then we smelled the smoke. We lie down, split the group into the capture pair plus three people to cover. Since I was the lightest, I paired up with the guy who had got closest to the trench during the training. We took off our coats and boots, secured the footcloths with bandages, and started crawling on all fours towards the “enemy”. I remember instant warming up of the body; a surge of elastic, sort of feline-like energy; mind clearing up; sharpening of all senses; complete feeling of our invisibility. Not making a slightest sound even once, we crawled up to the half-dug guardhouse and took cover behind a bush.

At the bottom of the dugout, in the corner, a small fire was burning. Next to it, two people were sitting and talking quietly. The third person slept, his head covered with the cape. I recognized the two voices: the scary deputy commander of the 3rd platoon and their 1st squad commander. Before joining the school, both of them had served for 18 months as paratroopers, so we were no match for them. Yet there was nothing else to do, and we moved closer to the sleeping guy and waited.

After a while, there was loud cracking of some dry branches, followed by yelling, swearing, and feet stomping. The sergeants jumped on their feet, grabbed their weapons and rushed towards the noise. The guy who was asleep jumped up too, but his limbs got caught inside the cape and he fell back down. That’s when my partner grasped the opportunity. He jumped down to the bottom, picked up the dropped gun, threw it to me, ran to the opposite side of the dugout and climbed up. Everything happed so quickly that the unarmed cadet was confused and remained sitting on the ground, looking around frantically.

On the way back we did not crawl but flew, then ran for a long time, then wandered in the woods looking for our base... When we got back, it was disappointing to learn that we were the only fortunate ones. No one else got any trophies.

The major kept his word and gave our company commander only two guns from our platoon and one gun from the 3rd platoon.

For about three months we mentioned this major, calling him all kinds of names… while the 3rd platoon kept mentioning us...

This is when my colleagues and I got the burning desire to find out how to move in the night forest so quietly and unnoticeably.

The major taught us tactics for another year and did not make a big secret out of his amazing skills. He shared with anyone who was willing to learn. Even after that, during the years of service, there were many people who generously passed on their invaluable experience. So, now there is an answer to this question from long ago. And there is more: a carefully perfected methodology for mastering this skill.

So, how does one learn to move QUIETLY and UNNOTICEABLY?

Let us start with the main thing. What are the key factors and attributes of silent movement?

The main factor ensuring quietness is the individual's inner state, which in turn allows for smoothness and precision of movement. Psychologically unbalanced person with inadequate reactions cannot do anything without making noise!

The inner state is followed by mastering the skills of moving silently:
Upright
On all fours
Crawling
Over and around obstacles
In the water (entering, swimming, diving, and exiting the water)
Without the use of eyesight, etc.

These skills are perfected on various surfaces and in a range of conditions, at different speeds and while performing additional tasks. In parallel with mastering the skills of silent movement, we study acoustic features of various objects and environments. The skill of feeling (tuning into) the environment is learned. Also, we explore different ways of reducing the “sonority” of objects. Finally, the knowledge of physiology and psychology of human sound perception is gained.

The scope of this work is large, so the training can take anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on the intensity and depth. Note that the key to this work is not gaining knowledge but acquiring solid skills, which can only be developed if the person undergoes inner transformation.

Now, let us start prioritizing the factors based on a specific example: the work we did with the freshmen who were selected for serving in our unit. Please note they were not brand new recruits, but soldiers with six months of experience from the training units of paratroopers and the special forces.

We have identified the inner state as the most crucial factor in learning to move silently. So, we will cover this factor first.

The issue of inner state is very complex because it includes multiple aspects, such as
Congenital features of the person's psyche – their temperament
Character traits formed during the personality development
Skills and ways of removing tensions from one’s nervous system, learned through the life process
Presence of fears and ability to work with them
Emotional conditioning and control; experience with peak levels of emotions
Amount of inner tension accumulated as of the beginning of work, and
Multitude of other aspects.

In essence, in order to work silently, one's psychological “tension peaks” have to be flattened, and the residual stress eliminated by physical and emotional workouts, calming down and relaxing the individual. These are the prerequisites for perfecting the skills of silent movement.

In practice, how did we achieve the inner state required to do the work? Despite the complexity of the question, the answer is very simple. Because we never had enough time to make each soldier completely imperturbable, all stress and anxiety were removed using higher levels of stress and hypertension. We followed the principles of “fighting fire with fire” and “whatever you do not get using your head, you will get using your body!”

First of all, it was necessary to ensure that the freshmen exhibited all their inner tensions, conflicts, and discords. Then we channeled all of these through an outlet of some sort. It was achieved during the first week of preparation through gradual increase in psychological pressure, by constantly ramping up the physical demands while limiting the time. The men reached “the boiling point” during the climactic 24-hour field trip.

We would usually get started at night, with a sudden alert signal and a 30 km (20 mi.) march with full gear, which is over 30 kg (70 lbs) per person. The march was followed by tactical and shooting exercises, running an advanced obstacle course including water hazard, among other “life's little pleasures”. The daytime exercises turned into the non-stop night work which concluded in the morning with raiding the “target facility”, capturing a “prisoner”, escaping pursuit, then a short hand-to-hand combat to swiftly overpower the opponent on-the-go and finally, getting back to “our territory” / the finish line.

During the course of the 24-hour exercise, the psychological pressure was constantly building up (and getting pretty harsh at the end), which is what brought the personnel to the desired condition. At the end, the commander gave a brief speech, and then everyone returned to “the home base” for wash-up, lunch and rest. It was not until the next day that the real value-added work started: individual preparation, team building, and special tactics, including silent movement.

As the training progressed, the men's state was constantly observed, sustained, and developed according to the task at hand. Any accumulated tensions or irritability were “treated” using similar methods.

One can talk and write about the inner state endlessly. Yet it cannot be understood through words. It can only be felt. The inner state has to be experienced first-hand, within oneself.

... to be continued in the Newsletters to follow.

About the Author. Konstantin Komarov is:
- Major in the Special Service Police Force
- Russian Military Reconnaissance
- PhD in combat Psychology
- Professional Bodyguard for Moscow’s Elite
- One of the master instructors at the 2010 Summit of Masters

About the Translator:
This and many other stories by Konstantin have been skillfully translated by Dmitri Trufanov a Systema Chicago instructor.

Phone: 647-401-1532 Email: info@systemaGeorgetown.com